Sullivan’s flip-flops unnerving

The approval of one Bush cabinet member all but disappeared last Thursday in the shadow of controversy surrounding the nomination of John Tower for defense secretary: the Senate Finance Committee’s approval of the nomination of Dr. Louis Sullivan for secretary of health and human services.

The committee voted 17-0 in favor of accepting Sullivan for the HHS position after a period of the doctor’s own controversy that pales in comparison to Tower’s. The nation watched for the last month as the secretary-designate changed his mind about a woman’s right (or lack of thereof) to have an abortion … then changed again … and then again.

Sullivan began, before his nomination, by publicly supporting the right to an abortion. Then, as Bush’s choice for HHS secretary, Sullivan said he’d adopted the new president’s position—no abortions except in cases of rape or incest or when the woman’s life is endangered. Shortly after, Sullivan reversed this statement in a conversation with Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood. And last Thursday, the nominee pulled his third and final flip-flop in saying he had “misspoken” with Packwood.

The controversial issue here is not so much in Sullivan’s opinion of the abortion question. It is not even about aligning his views with those of his boss, the president—whether “right” or “wrong,” such is to be expected in the formation of a president’s cabinet.

The crux of controversy here lies in the ostensible uncertainty of Louis Sullivan. Few, if any, legislators question his professional competence; he has served as president of the prestigious Morehouse Medical School in Atlanta. However, his shakiness on the abortion issue raises questions about decision-making capabilities, both his own and those of Bush.

Hopefully, this early freak show will not prove to be an indication of things to come in the Bush cabinet and administration.